A former S.C. Law Enforcement Division officer is expected to testify Monday that a man serving a life sentence for a double murder did not have gunshot residue on his hands after the crime, but that the victims’ son did.
Richard Gagnon, convicted in 2008 of killing Charlie and Diane Parker, will be in the Conway courtroom of Judge Steven H. John on Monday in an attempt to win a new trial in his case.
Gagnon’s attorney, Bob Dudek, chief appellate defender with the Commission on Indigent Defense, said he plans to present evidence and witnesses that show Gagnon had not fired a gun on the day of the murders, but that there was conclusive evidence that Charlie Parker Jr. had fired a gun.
Bambi Bennett, the Parkers’ daughter and Gagnon’s girlfriend at the time of the slayings, spent months in jail for the murders before the charges were eventually dropped. She was livid about the fact she had just recently heard about the gunshot residue (GSR) testing.
“I’m just outraged about all this,” she said from her home in Sarasota, Fla. “My life was ruined .. my children’s lives were ruined. Not only did I lose my parents, I was put in jail and falsely accused for two years. Forever my life has been damaged because of a mistake.
“This is like something off TV ... it doesn’t seem real. My parents were shot, my brother has gunshot residue on both palms on the back of his hand in high quantity and nothing has been said about if for seven years. I just hope that (15th Circuit Solicitor Greg) Hembree and (Horry County Chief Deputy Solicitor Jimmy) Richardson do the right thing and find the truth.”
SLED’s initial GSR tests, dated June 14, 2005, show that Gagnon had one round lead particle, which is a component of GSR, on the left palm which produced a reading of 10. Tests of Charlie Parker Jr. show that GSR was found on his left palm (34), right palm (18) and the back of his right hand (32).
Parker Jr., of Conway, who says he has not thought about the case since the trial concluded, was taken aback when contacted about the results.
“I really don’t care, ya know,” he said. “I’ve gone on with my life. I remember when they tested, they still have my clothes. You calling me is the first I’ve heard about it.”
The younger Parker, who is Bennett’s half brother (they have the same mother), says the GSR transferred when he attempted to give his father CPR when he found him that morning.
“I picked him up and rolled him over and his mouth came open and I thought he was trying to say something,” Parker Jr. said. “I gave him CPR and saw that he had two bullet holes and got out of there and called 911. The lady on 911 told us (Joseph Cannon and Bill Carrick, who were with him in the home) to get out of the house.
“The reason I had it on me is I was just trying to revive him.”
Former SLED agent turned chemistry professor at Lander University Jeffrey Hollifield is expected to refute that claim Monday. Hollifield, a GSR expert, has given an affidavit that the GSR test on Parker Jr. is consistent with him firing a gun, and that any attempt to explain the levels as “contamination” is problematic.
He says in the affidavit that Gagnon had not washed his hands and there was no indication that he had recently fired a gun.
Another man expected to testify Monday is Tabor City, N.C., native Bruce Antwain Hill, who was also convicted of the murders in a 2011 trial. DNA extracted from blood found at the scene matched that of a sample Hill provided when booked into prison on a burglary charge in Tennessee.
Prosecutors at the time of Hill’s trial claimed both men worked together to commit the crime, but Hill – who was extradited from a Tennessee prison to testify Monday – is expected to say he has never met Gagnon.
“I traveled to Tennessee with Mr. Hill’s lawyer and Mr. Hill told me, consistent with the affidavit, that he had never met or had never heard of Mr. Gagnon,” Dudek said. “He was shown a picture of him and said he had never seen him. Mr. Gagnon and Bennett have both said they have never talked, seen or heard of Mr. Hill.”
Hembree was not available for comment, but Richardson doesn’t believe that is enough for a new trial.
“From our standpoint, [the DNA’s] not newly discovered evidence,” he said. “We knew there was a fourth person. We went through this every day at the trial, telling the jury there is going to be a another person because someone else’s blood was there. They knew everything but the name.
“If he comes in and says ‘Look guys, I killed Charlie and Diane Parker and I killed them with John Doe or killed them right by myself,’ that’s one thing. But if he says I didn’t kill them and I don’t know Richard Gagnon, what’s that to me?”
Dudek sees it differently.
“Horry County law enforcement, after Hill was arrested and his DNA matched, recognized and boasted that they would establish a connection between Hill and Gagnon,” Dudek said. “They have utterly failed to keep that promise. Any attempt to now say such a connection between the two is unecessary is, respectfully, absurd.”
One person Hill definitely knew was Khalil Moore, who had worked for Mirrortec, a glass business run by Charlie Parker and his son. Myrtle Beach police officer Richard Beatty testified at Hill’s trial that he had stopped Hill on Ocean Boulevard later in the month the murders were committed and that Moore was in the car.
That testimony helped Hembree connect Hill to the Parkers during his trial. There was no mention of Gagnon’s conviction during those proceedings.
Others who could possibly testify Monday are Robert Troy Taylor and Stephanie Willis.
Taylor is expected to expand on an affidavit that says Robert Mullins lied at Gagnon’s initial trial. Taylor, who was incarcerated with Mullins at Evans Correctional Institute, said Mullins told him he lied at Gagnon’s trial when he insinuated that Gagnon admitted a role in the murders. Willis, with the S.C. Department of Corrections, is expected to testify that Taylor and Mullins – who could not be located – shared a cell.
Nico Coty Toscani testified during the Sept. 4 hearing that Mullins admitted the same thing to him while the two were incarcerated together Tyger River Correctional Institute.
It was because of the testimony of Mullins’ claims that Bennett hasn’t spoken to Gagnon since being behind bars herself.
“We wrote the first three months or so when in jail, but haven’t talked since,” she said. “My attorney told me he had been making statements only the killer would know and made me believe he did it. Now they have two or three people coming forward saying that Mullins lied.”
Another person Bennett hasn’t spoken to since her arrest is her brother, who introduced the couple when he brought Gagnon to his parents’ home. That silence won’t be broken Monday because neither Bennett nor Parker Jr. plan on attending the hearing.
“Why would I?” Parker Jr. said. “It ain’t gonna bring my parents back. I don’t care if he gets out, I just don’t want to be around people like that.
“I don’t have business with being up there. I have more things to do.”
Although Bennett won’t be attending, she says she will be following the proceedings closely and is thankful someone is seeking the truth in her parents death, adding one person in prison isn’t responsible.
“I don’t believe [Gagnon] did it,” she said. “They basically convicted him on a jailhouse snitch, but now you have all these people saying that [Mullins] lied and GSR on my brother. This is not pointing to Rick in any way, shape or form.
“Thanks to Bob Dudek and his team for finally getting someone to look at his.”
Dudek is another who believes the wrong man has been imprisoned for more than seven years, and simply hope the evidence he’s gathered is enough to prove it.
“I maintain a small hope that [Hembree and Richardson] may just come to the conclusion that maybe we’ve got the wrong guy here and just admit there’s too much wrong with this case and admit there ought to be another trial,” he said. “I do think an innocent man has been incarcerated for a long time and having done this for 22 years, I do not say that lightly.”
To reach that end, Dudek and Gagnon will have to overcome not only the testimony of Mullins’ but the fact he had the Parkers’ blood on his shoe. Gagnon and Bennett have claimed he entered the home to retrieve her mother’s purse because her purse and keys had been forgotten in another police car that had left the scene.
Richardson is unsure if the new evidence will warrant a new trial.
“I don’t believe that will be enough,” he said. “But on the same token, we don’t want people in jail that haven’t done anything wrong. If they are able to prove their point that we’ve got the wrong guy in jail, we don’t want him in jail.
“If it’s somewhere in the middle and they’re able to show newly discovered evidence and the judge agrees, we’ll just have to try him again.”